11/13/2002 12:00AM

Wag the Symposium


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - News item: Comedian Elayne Boosler has canceled her appearance at the Dec. 12 banquet of the 29th annual Symposium on Racing, presented by the Race Track Industry Program of the University of Arizona. Boosler, an avowed animal rights activist, cited the presence of greyhound racing representatives at the symposium as the reason for her cancellation.

And good for her. Comedians should always be careful about who they might accidentally entertain. Wouldn't want to make the enemy laugh.

Boosler's bail-out left the people at the RTIP in a quandary. With less than one month to go before the symposium opens (Dec. 10 at the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson), the pool of available dinner-show comedians figures to be desperately small. And now that topnotch talent was beginning to demand audience background checks, the task of finding a replacement would be tougher than ever.

One can only imagine the conversation between Doug Reed, the RTIP executive director, and Wendy Davis, the program's assistant coordinator.

Yes, just imagine (cue fantasy sequence music) . . .

Reed: I can't believe this happened. Didn't anyone see this coming?

Davis: How could we? Apparently Ms. Boosler is very involved in the rescue of boxers. At least, that's what it says on her website.

Reed: Boxers? As in De La Hoya? Lennox Lewis? She rescues welterweights?

Davis: The dogs. You know - square heads, worried look all the time. It's her personal cause, so of course we respect her decision.

Reed: Absolutely. But who can we get at this hour? Our symposium guests have grown accustomed to quality banquet entertainment. We just can't hire the house band to drive up from the Pascua Yaqui Casino for the night.

Davis: So far I've tried the names on this list. I've included their reasons for turning us down.

Reed: Let's see. Louie Anderson . . . objects to game show mentality of horse racing. Bob Saget . . . racing videos not very funny. Jimmy Walker . . . doesn't do lily-white gigs. Rita Rudner . . . nothing to wear. Maybe we should just play an old Richard Pryor album over the PA system during dessert.

Davis: Don't give up. I think we can get Kathleen Madigan. She's done an HBO special. She's been on Letterman and Leno. And I don't think there will be a dog issue.

Reed: Good. Otherwise you'll see me up there singing "Moon River" and my medley of tunes from "Paint Your Wagon."

In fact, they got Kathleen Madigan, who should not be judged harshly just because she accepts a job from racetrackers. After all, she did play the Kilkenny Comedy Festival in Ireland.

So the talent crisis was averted. And, hopefully, two important lessons have been learned: Comedians do not always have a sense of humor, and perception is important.

Frankly, it would have been a kick to have heard Boosler's take on horse racing, and how she was uncomfortable being in the same room with people who profit from racing dogs. She might have missed a chance to let fly some well-aimed arrows. Oh well, where's Lenny Bruce when we need him?

"The kind of comedy I do isn't, like, going to change the world," Bruce said. "But certain areas of society make me unhappy, and satirizing them - aside from being lucrative - provides a release for me."

Every industry must at some point account for its associations. Fair or not, modern horse racing is forever being lumped into the same cultural slag heap as dog racing, casino gambling, and cockfighting. By opting out of her commitment, Boosler delivered a wake-up nudge, free of charge.

In the meantime, Wendy Davis is bracing for the last-minute round of symposium registrations, while at the same time reshaping some of the industry issue panels that makeup the meat of the four-day gathering.

Apparently, there has been some news lately about the pick six.

"This year there really wasn't anything really big, and of great interest across the board," Davis said. "Certainly, insurance is a very important subject. But it's a little dry."

Perhaps. But there will be other choices. Symposium participants will be able to choose from "The Globalization of Racing," or "The Legislative Perspective on Racing," or even "Regulatory Issues Revisited."

Or else they could just hit the bar until tee time.

Then the Breeders' Cup betting scandal broke, and a red-hot topic fell right into Davis's lap. There will be at least one added panel devoted entirely to the ramifications of the computer-based scam, and other discussion groups enhanced by speakers who will address the ongoing developments of the case. If Kathleen Madigan is on the ball, she will include at least one Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity joke in her routine.

"I guess we should thank those Drexel boys for getting caught right before the symposium instead of afterwards," Davis said.

Timing is everything.